PRINT September 2018

Barbara Moore

Peter Moore, performance view of Steve Paxton’s Deposit, 1965. Kutsher’s Country Club, Thompson, NY, August 25, 1965. Deborah Hay and Steve Paxton.

I REGARD PETER'S ARCHIVE as a lifelong photo-essay. He came out of the generation of photographers influenced by Life magazine and his idol was W. Eugene Smith, with whom he studied in Smith’s final workshop. We met in 1960 and married in ’61, beginning our joint commitment to the thrilling avant-garde activities that were taking place. Judson was just one experience in this whole new world, which would eventually include Happenings, Fluxus, multimedia and intermedia. He and a handful of other photographers like Robert McElroy did this on their own time and at their own expense, simply because they felt that if they didn’t record these events they’d be forgotten. Peter started photographing the Judson Poets Theater in 1961; once we were on its mailing list, we heard about the new dance concerts.

Peter called himself an observer. Although since childhood I’d been obsessed with dance, we approached JDT as outsiders with no knowledge of its Cagean roots in the Robert Dunn workshop. Peter initially didn’t even like dance. Early on in our relationship I’d dragged him to Martha Graham and he fell asleep. But he got really excited when we went to the fourth Judson concert (our first), January 30, 1963, and he shot Trisha Brown’s Lightfall. Afterward, I said to him, “I thought you didn’t like dance,” and he replied, “That wasn’t dance.” Of course, he grew to love it, whatever it was called, and rejected the fallacy of pigeonholing artists and their work.

In my own art-historical career I’ve always believed in the importance of keeping alive the work of lesser-known artists. And there’s something about the group dynamic in workshops such as Judson that seems to inspire even the least prominent individuals to do their best work and create something memorable. Freddie Herko was not the most distinguished choreographer, but he was a capable dancer and had a great stage presence. Dervish (1964) was an incredible piece in which he spun around so rapidly that he virtually disappeared.

There’s something about the group dynamic in workshops such as Judson that seems to inspire even the least prominent individuals to do their best work and create something memorable.

JDT rarely featured humorous work. One exception was Alex Hay, who would take a single task and carry it to a ridiculous extreme. In Prairie (1963), he positioned himself at the apex of this polygonal pipe sculpture by Charles Ross with a couple of pillows tied to his body and wriggled around until he eventually ended up on the floor. A tape of his voice repeatedly asked him, “Are you comfortable?,” to which he’d reply, “Yes, I’m comfortable,” or probably, sometimes, “I’m not comfortable.” It was hilarious despite being slow, methodical, and repetitious. In the 1960s, we learned to respect these qualities as effective theatrical devices.

It wasn’t until much later that people began to appreciate what photographers like Peter had done. By the late ’70s, the field of performance photography had become professionalized, and choreographers and performers wanted to exert more control. Yes, photographers were paid, but they were relegated to photo ops created for the camera. Peter really lost interest in those kinds of situations. For me, his photographs, all shot in available light without flash, captured the spirit and ambience of Judson the way I remember it.

As told to Chandra Glick.

Barbara Moore is an art historian, scholar, and Director of the Peter Moore Photography Archive.